Former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow has praised Keir Starmer for having a “remorseless, incisive and persistent approach” and criticised the Tory government at a fringe event at Labour conference.
Bercow was introduced during the ‘in conversation’ event in a packed room as “Labour’s newest recruit”. The former Tory MP joined Labour earlier this year and is attending his first Labour conference.
Asked for his thoughts on Starmer, Bercow described him as a “very good debater”, but said he needs to “craft a vision of how Britain will look different and be better” and “develop a narrative and develop clear policies”.
He said he was hopeful that Starmer will “gradually come across to the public as someone who has come into politics to advance the interests of those less fortunate than himself”.
On Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, Bercow said she was “passionate” and “angry”, though added that he would not use the same language as she did to describe the Conservative Party.
Rayner faced criticism during Labour conference after she called Conservative ministers “homophobic, racist, misogynistic scum”. Last year, she apologised for using the word “scum” in the House of Commons.
“I think Angela Rayner is a damn good person. She’s got strong and good values. I wouldn’t have used that expression but I don’t think we should get on our moral high horses about it,” Bercow said.
Commenting on recent internal party debates, he remarked, “I don’t think many people are interested in the methods of electing leaders”, and said his own view on Labour’s path ahead was “similar to that of Andy Burnham”.
Asked which Labour faction he would most closely identify with, Bercow replied that he did not want to identify with any but also said “I wouldn’t call myself a Blairite” and described Gordon Brown as a “serious statesman”.
Bercow was the Conservative MP for Buckingham for over two decades, having been elected in 1997, and was Speaker from 2009 to 2019. He last night declared himself “proud to be a member of the Labour Party”.
Repeatedly addressing event attendees as “comrades”, he described his time in right-wing pressure group the Monday Club as “utterly shameful”. The group’s views were “ghastly” and “antisemitic”, he said.
Bercow told the event that he looks back on his time in the Conservative Party “more in sorrow than in anger”. He said the Tory ‘levelling up’ project is “utterly vacuous” and the government lack of funding for education “stinks”.
On Brexit, he concluded that the outcome might have been different “had people been prepared to compromise beyond their first preference”. He said as Speaker he was “trying to do the right thing for parliament and for the country”.
Addressing accusations of bullying, he said they are “not for me to determine, but for other people to judge”, made clear that he denies the allegations and said they had been “investigated and rejected”.
Investigations into the conduct of Bercow as Speaker, angry outbursts and obscene language, are ongoing. He has always denied the allegations made against him.